Irrelevant Troubadour


Epithets
December 24, 2010, 6:26 pm
Filed under: literature

It’s a writing strategy I’ve noticed many a time. Say you have a character named Billy who’s from Texas. Instead of writing, “Billy swung his axe and chopped the log cleanly in twain”, writers will often write, “The Texan swung his axe and chopped the log cleanly in twain.” I suppose it makes sense if you’re trying to hide the character’s real name, but if you already know his name and are just using this descriptor interchangeably with it, it just seems unnecessary.

It reminds me of what Mark Twain said about bad writers choosing the second cousins of the words they actually needed, only applied to naming. There’s just no reason to do this other than to “fancy up” your prose. When I read something like this, it pretty much instantly brands what I’m reading as the work of an amateur.

The thing is, names are like the word “said”: they get to be pretty much invisible after a while. There’s not need to switch them up to avoid repetition, since they don’t call any attention to themselves. If you do switch them up, you end up calling attention to them, just as if you replaced, “Billy said, ‘Howdy there,'” with, “Billy ejaculated ‘Howdy there.'”

I dunno.  To me, character name redundancy is pretty much a non-issue.  Maybe I’m a minimalist when it comes to prose style.  I’ve talked to people about this, and apparently there are some creative writing classes that teach you to do this, so I’m thinking I may be alone in being bothered by this.  It still just seems like an unnecessary distraction to me though.

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